Odessa, a coastal city located on the northwestern shore of the Black Sea is Ukraine’s most prominent commercial seaport and an important tourism hub. It was founded in 1794 by Russian Empress Catherine the Great because of its strategic location as a Russian naval base and port on the Black Sea.
This third largest city in Ukraine started as an Ottoman settlement and began to attract immigrants from Europe particularly Greece, Italy and France and also people from all over the world when Catherine the Great invited traders, sailors, and laborers to the new port. Today, over 120 nationalities are living in Odessa, making it one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Ukraine.
There is so much to see and do, but we have chosen five best things to do in Odessa:
1. Go for an opera or ballet performance at the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre
Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre is one of the most beautiful theaters in the world. Either join a guided tour or if you can get opera or ballet tickets, go for the performance at the theater. You can get good seats for less than 10 Euro per ticket. The same type of performance will cost ten times more in a New York City or London theater.
The city’s most iconic building was designed by Ferdinand Fellner, and Herman Helmer, the same architects of Vienna State Opera. The original was destroyed in 1873 and the theater was rebuilt in 1887. The building’s facade is decorated in baroque style. You’ll find the busts of Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Glinka, Nikolai Gogol and Alexander Griboyedov on the top floor around the building’s roof. The horseshoe-shaped theater provides excellent acoustics and is decorated with gilded stucco figures.
2. Join a walking tour of Odessa
A walking tour is the best way to discover Odessa’s top attractions like the Passage (impressive facades), Twelfth Chair, Opera House, Potemkin Steps, Deribasovskaya Street, City Garden, and more. Choose a three to four hour paid or free (pay what you like) tour of Odessa.
After the short walking tour, we recommend setting aside more time to walk the 192-steps of the Potemkin Steps, strolling on the pedestrian-only Deribasovskaya Street and perhaps spending the rest of the day at Arcadia, where Odessa’s best nightclubs and beaches are located.
3. Visit the Catacombs
Beneath the city streets, parks and buildings is Odessa’s urban network of tunnels, known as the Odessa Catacombs. These labyrinths covering over 1,600 miles are made up of bunkers, tunnels, drains, natural caves, basement, and shelters. It is the largest in the world. The catacombs started in the early 1800s when limestone was quarried and later became hiding places for smugglers, rebels, and criminals.
When you join a guided tour of the catacombs, you will see a small portion of the catacombs and discover the history of Odessa from the early 1800s to the present. At the end of the tour, all guests are treated to a special drink and cookies in the underground cafe.
4. Visit Privoz Market
Started in 1827 when farmers from nearby farms came with their horse-drawn carts to sell whatever they produced, today Privoz Market sells almost everything you need. Privoz Market, Odessa’s largest market offers all types of fish, seafood, meat, fruits, vegetables, prepared foods, spices, housewares, electronics, flowers, and desserts. Besides the thousands of items in the market, you’ll see butchers at work, locals choosing their fruits and vegetables and tired vendors ready to call it a day.
5. Enjoy a variety of cuisine in Odessa
Because of its proximity to the sea, Odessa is the best city in Ukraine for fresh seafood. The most famous is rachki, the tiny orangey red Black Sea prawns.
Greek, Italian, Armenian, Jewish, French, Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, and Asian cuisine are available in Odessa.